Freydís Eiríksdóttir was said to be born around 970 to Erik the Red (as in her patronym) who was associated with the Norse exploration of North America and the finding of Vinland with his son Leif Erikson. The only medieval and primary sources we have of Freydís are the two Vinland sagas; the Greenland saga and the Saga of Erik the Red. The two sagas offer differing accounts, though in both Freydís appears as a masculine, strong-willed woman who would defy the odds of her society.
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Freydís is described as Leif Erikson’s full sister. This was the first saga written in the late twelfth century and is a crude version of the accounts that happened in Vinland. Freydís is mentioned only once in this saga. This is the most famous account we have of Freydís.
After expeditions to Vinland led by Leif Erikson, Þorvaldr Eiríksson and Þorfinnr Karlsefni met with some success, Freydís wants the prestige and wealth associated with a Vinland journey. She makes a deal with two Icelandic men, Helgi and Finnbogi, that they should go together to Vinland and share all profits half-and-half. Freydis asks her brother Leif Erikson to use the homes and stables that he has built in Vinland. He agrees that they all can use the houses. Helgi and Finnbogi agree that they will bring the same number of men and supplies, but Freydis ends up leaving after the brothers because she had smuggled more men into her ship. Helgi and Finnbogi, arriving early, take refuge in the houses until Freydís appears and orders the brothers to move, as the houses were her brother's and meant for her. This is one of the many disagreements that would happen in the time they are there.
In Vinland, there was tension between the two groups. Helgi and Finnbogi set up a settlement separate from Freydis and her crew. Freydis eventually went to the brothers' hut and asked how they were faring. "Well," responded the brothers, "but we do not like this ill-feeling that has sprung up between us." The two sides made peace.
When she returned to her husband, Freydis claimed Helgi and Finnbogi had beaten her, and, calling him a coward, demanded that he exact revenge on her behalf, or else she would divorce him. He gathered his men and killed Helgi and Finnbogi as well as the men in their camp when they were sleeping. When he refused to kill the five women in the camp, Freydis herself picked up an axe and massacred them.
Freydís wanted to conceal her treachery and threatened death to anyone who would tell of the killings. She went back to Greenland after a year's stay and told her brother Leif Eiriksson that Helgi and Finnbogi had decided to stay in Vinland. However, word of the killings eventually reached the ears of Leif. He had three men from Freydís's expedition tortured until they confessed the whole occurrence. Thinking ill of the deeds, Leif still did not want "to do that to Freydís, my sister, which she has deserved". However, he remarked that he foresaw Freydis' descendants having little prosperity. The Greenlander Saga concludes that everyone thought ill of her descendants afterwards.
Saga of Erik the Red
Freydís is described as the half-sister to Leif Erikson. Written after the Greenland saga in the 13th century, Freydís is portrayed as a fearless and protective viking warrior. She joined an expedition to Vinland led by Þorfinnr Karlsefni, but is only mentioned once in the saga when the expedition was attacked by natives (also known as the Skrælingjar in Icelandic. The natives stealthily attacked the expedition's camp at night and shoot at the warriors using what are believed to be catapults.
Many of the Nordic invaders panicked, having never seen such weaponry. As men fled during the confusion, Freydís, who was eight-months pregnant, admonished them saying:
"Why run you away from such worthless creatures, stout men that ye are, when, as seems to me likely you might slaughter them like so many cattle? Give me a weapon! I know I could fight better than any of you." Ignored, Freydís then picks up the sword of the fallen Snorri Thorbrandsson and engages the attacking natives. She undoes her garment exposing one breast and beating the sword's hilt on her chest gave a furious battle cry. With this, the natives retreated to their boats and fled. Karlsefni and the other survivors rebuffs her behaviour rather than offering any praise. Eirik the Red's Saga states Freydís, Karlsefni, and others praised her luck.
Adaptations in fiction
- Icelandic artist Stebba Ósk Ómarsdóttir and Spanish writer Salva Rubio published an illustrated book telling the story of Freydís Eiríksdottir in 2015.
Joan Clark published a fictional novel with Freydís as the main character, called Eriksdottir in 2002.
- Australian children's author Jackie French used Freydís as one of her characters in her 2005 novel They Came on Viking Ships.
- Popular blog-turned-book Rejected Princesses spotlighted Freydís in one of its posts.
- William Vollmann's novel, The Ice Shirt, is a speculative novel partly about Eiríksdóttir in Vinland.
- Freydís' story is told in first person point of view in Forest Child, the second book of the Vikings of the New World Saga by Heather Day Gilbert (WoodHaven Press, 2016).
- Katia Winter portrayed Freydís in the DC's Legends of Tomorrow episodes "Beebo the God of War" and "The Good, the Bad, and the Cuddly".
- Magnusson and Palsson, Vinland Sagas, 2004[page needed]
- "Nuevo libro ilustrado sobre vikingos: Vinland New illustrated book about vikings: Vinland |". Salvarubio.info. 2014-06-20. Retrieved 2015-09-19.
- Rubio, Salva and Stebba Ósk Ómarsdóttir, Vinland: La Saga de Freydís Eiríksdóttir, Thule Eds, 2015, ISBN 978-84-15357-68-1[page needed]
- Gunnar Karlsson (2000). Iceland's 1100 Years: History of a Marginal Society. London: Hurst. ISBN 1-85065-420-4.
- Magnusson, Magnus and Hermann Pálsson (translators) (2004). Vinland Sagas. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-044154-9. First ed. 1965.
- Reeves, Arthur M. et al. (1906). The Norse Discovery of America. New York: Norrœna Society. Available online
- Örnólfur Thorsson (ed.) (2001). The Sagas of Icelanders. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-100003-1
- Judith Jesch, Women in the Viking Age (Woodbridge, Boydell Press, 1991)